Trump’s Yanked Support for Hudson Tunnel Angers Those Who Saw a Done Deal

For beleaguered commuters who ride trains into and out of New York City, the plan to dig new rail tunnels under the Hudson River must, by now, seem like a big tease.

Just a few months ago, the idea once again appeared to have gained the support it needed in Washington and, once again, it looks as if one powerful official — in this case, the president — could put a stop to it. The latest and perhaps most ominous threat came late Friday night when it was revealed that President Trump had asked Republican leaders to withdraw federal funding for the project.

Mr. Trump has promised to spur “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history.” So his opposition to an established project that is widely considered a solution to one of the nation’s most critical infrastructure needs has confounded even veterans of his own party. Some fear that Mr. Trump is jeopardizing commerce along the Eastern Seaboard simply to spite Senator Charles E. Schumer, the Democratic leader from New York.

“If the news reports are accurate that he wants to kill it or hold it because he’s mad at Chuck Schumer, that makes no sense,” said Representative Peter King, Republican of Long Island. “This is essential to the national economy as well as the regional economy.”

He said he would not vote for a funding bill that did not include some money for the rail-tunnel project, which is known as Gateway. “I support President Trump on a lot of issues, but on this one he’s wrong,” Mr. King said in an interview on Saturday.

Mr. Schumer declined to be interviewed about the matter. He said in a statement, “This project is vital to 50 million people in the northeast corridor and to our American economy, and politics shouldn’t get in the way.”

Supporters of the project emphasize that the New York metropolitan area produces about 10 percent of the nation’s economic output. They warn that movement within and beyond the region would slow to a crawl if one of the two century-old tunnels under the Hudson River had to be closed for repairs.

“The ripple effects of the loss of this tunnel are going to be seen through goods movement, through air travel nationally and through the economic productivity of the New York region,” said Thomas K. Wright, president of the Regional Plan Association, which studies transportation networks in the metropolitan area. “This is the national economy we’re talking about.”

This would not be the first time the plug was pulled on a plan to add capacity to the overburdened trans-Hudson rail network. In 2010, Chris Christie, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, halted construction on a different project, which was known as the ARC tunnel. Representatives from New York and New Jersey had already arranged full funding of the federal share of that project.

Since Mr. Christie canceled the ARC project, the need for a new tunnel has become more dire, transportation officials say. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy flooded the existing tunnels with salt water and the residue has been eating away at them from the inside ever since. If one of those tubes, which are owned and maintained by Amtrak, had to be taken out of service with no replacement, train service to and from New York City would be reduced by as much as 75 percent, Amtrak officials say.

“Every day that goes by is a day we risk uncertainty, especially with mother nature,” said Janna Chernetz, director of New Jersey policy for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “The next storm will not have to be as strong as Hurricane Sandy before the tunnel has to be taken out of service.”

Kathryn S. Wylde, president and chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, a big-business group, says Mr. Trump knows how important Gateway is to the region and the country.

“President Trump travels frequently between New York and New Jersey and understands that Gateway is critical to connect the rest of the country with the center of the economy and the world financial capital in New York,” Ms. Wylde said in an interview. “I have no doubt that regardless of what he says, he knows the importance of this project and he does not want it to fail on his watch.”

Mr. King said he did not understand what had changed since he attended a meeting with Mr. Trump and other elected officials at the White House in September. At the time Mr. Trump was telling the group that Gateway was “even more important than we were saying it was,” Mr. King recalled. He said he came away believing that receiving substantial federal funding for the project was merely a matter of “crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s,” he said.

Mr. Christie and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, both of whom attended that meeting, had already pledged to cover half the cost of building Gateway. The Obama administration had ranked Gateway the No. 1 priority in transportation infrastructure and informally agreed to cover the other half.

In what was taken as a sign of continuing bipartisan support, Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, a Republican from New Jersey who leads the House Appropriations Committee, committed $900 million to the Gateway project last year. Mr. Christie, who had endorsed Mr. Trump for president, called the allocation “a triumph for our region.”

But by December, Mr. Trump and members of his administration signaled a reversal. The federal Department of Transportation withdrew from the board of the Gateway Program Development Corporation. In a letter sent just before New Year’s Eve, K. Jane Williams, the acting administrator of the Federal Transit Administration, said the agreement the governors were citing was “nonexistent.”

Still, Republicans have been planning to include more than $900 million for Gateway in the spending bill that they hope to pass this month. At least they did before Mr. Trump personally pressed Speaker Paul D. Ryan last week to remove that allocation, according to people familiar with the conversation.

Reports of Mr. Trump’s appeals angered elected officials in New York.

“Taxpayers deserve better than a president who would sabotage critical economic development to pursue petty partisan vendettas,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat. “President Trump needs to grow up and work on behalf of Americans here.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York took to Twitter to say Mr. Trump was making the “wrong decision” about the project.

Mr. Cuomo, who initially withheld his support for Gateway but has become a vocal proponent of the project, said in a statement: “Leaders on both sides of the aisle as well as practically every regional stakeholder and transit expert agree these tunnels need to be replaced. The president should do the right thing and stop playing politics with our transportation network, which is the lifeblood of the Northeast region’s economy.”

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